Hello, my friend!
The day is setting as we arrive at our hotel in Malta, and we are told that our room was once graced by Queen Elizabeth. The balcony overlooks the face of the mysterious Mediterranean, now bathed in the golden glow of a sun larger than I have ever seen.
I hope all is well with you and your new roommate. Getting to know someone is like a dance, get the footwork right or we step on toes. We all worry about stuff and then worry that we say too much about it, then wonder if the stuff is worth the worry, then tend to worry if the worry is truly a worry to worry about. Such complication. We are now south of Italy, on a remarkable island and I am sharing so that you might live vicariously with us for a while, stress-free.
Malta is truly eye-opening. Today, I made a friend in the little food market, who brought fresh produce, flour and yeast delivered right to our room, just because I was wondering where to find some and her market had none left. The romaine lettuce heads are the size of four of ours back home, emerald green and oh my word – the flavour! They tell us it’s because they grow everything in pig manure. I actually don’t think I wanted to know that. Each day, we would head down the street from our hotel to find a food truck to buy from. There are mouth watering vegetables stacked in heaps and the most vibrant orange and red fruits to savor. In France, we found vegetables a rarity, and bread, brioche, buttery cream and coffee became our dietary staples. But here, on this small island, cucumbers are sweeter than apples! Peppers, greens, melons, lemons, fresh basil and herbs, kiwi, lettuces and more, all a culinary delight!
We are staying a few extra days here instead of taking the train across London or heading to Scotland. It is about 25 degrees Celsius each day and breezy. I love the dry air – odd, it seems, as we are utterly surrounded by sea and yet the island is arid and dry. We spent time at the beach rolling in salt and sand and surf for a few hours, then tromp off to explore another battlement watchtower and the effects of the plague of 170l. You know how I love history. I find that there is a residue of suffering I sense yet resident in the broken shards of sandstone blocks that litter the corners. Here, in Malta, there is quite a mix of cultures: Arabic, spanish, italian, french, and it all shows up in a mix of languages! Most folks speak english however, and they resemble spanish/italians. The currency here is the Lira, about 4 times the Canadian dollar. They have a deflated economy, so coffee, for example, would be .50 lira, or 2.00 canadian. Malta has just been accepted into the Euro community to change their currency to Euro’s.
The water here is all desalinated, there is nothing fresh. The coastlines look as if the island was modelled out of plasticine, and the cliffs were carved straight down in chunks. There are horses, rats and mosquitoes. The roads are lined with the remnants of WW11 rubble and the architectural remains of the Roman conquest. This culture dates back over a millennia! Desite how dreary that description may seem, the island is rich in tradition, masonry and color.
I saw a woman today along the narrow cobbled streets of St. Paul, who was walking with a small child. She looked like a statuette from the days of the Roman empire; tall, elegant postured with flowing black hair curling down her back. She bore a delicate straight nose, an oval shaped face with large brown eyes slanted just slightly below regal brows; long necked and carried herself with such dignity. She spoke Maltese, which to my ears has the lilt of an Italian accent and the language of Arabic/Italian/French with a swish of English. She was on her way to the local food truck for her daily vegetables and fruits. No refrigerator. Her father lived with her and her son, and their home was a wee flat with two rooms and a toilet. She was all dressed in white and looking perfect; a paradox of perfection in poverty.
Malta is a rather tiny island, walled and cross-walled with low stone fences and pastures dotted with cattle and thatched roofs, where the grass and romaine is greener than green, and bags of ‘I don’t know what’ is heaped in alleys and corners of buildings. It is an enigma of beauty. It is morning now, and a few days have passed since I last wrote. Everywhere we see hidden enclaves of the garbage. Bags of refuse are hidden behind low, stone walls or in treed vales. Out of sight, yet painfully prevalent, we could still see them from the balcony of our hotel room in the Delta Marriott. And we saw small huts everywhere, with nothing inside but a chair! No roof. Since there are few birds not shot at, there were also none to be seen, as these huts were made for one person and a gun aimed upwards at anything that flies during more seasons than perhaps should be.
Do you know what was really disconcerting? Overnight, 3000 trees were hacked down in their forest reserve! There don’t seem to be that many trees on this island to begin with, and we know how they hold the ecosystem together, nevermind the soil. We are told it was done by bird hunters, who protest their right to shoot the few feathered fowl that may yet attempt the flight over Malta. Short-sighted narcissism clearly plagues every continent. Remember that study that placed cats as the greatest threat to songbirds on our landmass? Which was proven to be actually the result of other birds. I hope I don’t sleep with a Hitchcock film reeling in my head tonight.
In the city, we see the most beautiful women strolling the streets shrouded in the full regalia of Nuns. Dressed in white and some in black, there is a particular dignity and presence that they carry; long rosaries about their necks and hidden hands in their robes with heads held high and leaving me in awe of their gentle-hood. I don’t think I have ever actually seen Nuns wearing traditional robes as they do on Malta.
What glorious discoveries we made today – we visited the “Silent City” of Mdina! No cars. It was built around 700 BC, and the streets are so narrow only a horse and small buggy can get through the winding corridors. Great thing, calling it “Silent”, it makes all the visitors whisper as they traverse the streets! It was so peaceful and the air so soft. The doors are rounded and bold in color to match the shutters, with private wells in tiny private courtyards that whisper ancient things of lost secrets. It is the closest I may ever come to the Middle Eastern society and the feeling of the Holy land. North America is so young a land compared to European ‘middle earth’, yet here the land is rich with ancient ways, memories and artifacts. I wish so much that you were here to see it. Mdina is a walled city within a city, and the cobblestone streets are lined in rut-ways made by ancient chariot wheels; we could hire horse and buggy transportation there. With a population of under 300, the entire city is made of stone. We found such history in this home where biblical Apostle Paul was shipwrecked.
It is a small wonder that birds are shot and not cockroaches, which rivaled the size of a small bird, in my opinion. We found these insects resident in St. Paul’s Catacombs. They scuttle above one’s head with all those legs and scales in the low stone corridors of the hidden tombs and galleries, and at first, the catacombs seemed as ominous as tunnels to the underworld. Once inside, these sacred galleries and tombs were susurrus, gentle places of the dead. Here the air is still and heavy, woven into a historic tapestry rich with the colors of human struggle in faith and love.
We took a ferry to the island of Gozo today, and visited a megalithic cathedral. Most cathedrals we have seen so far in Europe are adorned with immense displays of finery and gold and paintings second only to the Sistine Chapel, anointing every sconce and wall and ceiling and lit with elaborate crystal chandeliers hanging every ten feet (God bless the humble soul who polishes them). There are meditation altars of various guilds and places of honor for Saints with enclaves for prayers and offerings, and stonework gaspingly intricate in design. Can you picture the exquisite carvings and sculptures of stone and wood? Here, we lingered to wander over stone slabs that honoured ancient priests and saints long buried. Hovering ever in the air are smells of incense mingle with that old-world scent of age and decay, yet, here was more than wealth and decadence and the whispers and sighs of ancient greed and sorrow often pervasive in the religion cloaking more than just these ancient european Cathedrals. Here in the air that kissed our souls lingered ageless prayers and love songs and the peace that comes with a holy desire to simply walk peacefully, prayerfully. I am glad we came to this special Cathedral, in the Great Citadel of the walled city in Rabat, Victoria, on the Isle of Goza. Pictures can not capture her beauty, and my soul will never be the same having seen her.
We are tired today. We have dragged ourselves all over Europe and France, on trains and off trains, through ruins and catacombs and tombs 5000 years old – and we have still not sunk our feet into the Mediterranean! So today, at Gozo, we did. We found a cliffside carved out with rooms like garages for boats, that people lived in for their weekends at the sea. The colors of these bobbing silhouettes and the surrounding buildings, and even the doors to these cliff-side garages are outrageous and wonderful.
The water is azure, the air is pure, and I wonder if stress is known by another name here. If so, there is little to worry about.